Monday, 6 August 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises' and 'Ted': review round-up

Still waiting on buying a new computer so I never got around to posting that in-depth 'The Dark Knight Rises' critique I wanted to. And seeing as that film has now been out for a few weeks it feels like old news, so I may as well just write a little something about it ahead of an (even more brief) appraisal of Seth MacFarlane's comedy 'Ted'. Be warned, this is a sour grapes, spoilsport edition blog post, in which I actively dislike two films most people have at least enjoyed, if not broadly praised. I wanted to enjoy both of these, for what it's worth.

'The Dark Knight Rises'
Part of the problem facing this one is that I loved 'The Dark Knight' all out of proportion and, in enjoying it as much as I did four summers ago, I also became a fairly big supporter of director Christopher Nolan. However, since then two things have happened: firstly, 'Inception' came along and wore out any goodwill I had accumulated towards the filmmaker - being bloated, pompous, cold and extremely reliant on exposition (all flaws 'TDKR' shares to greater and lesser extents). Secondly, and more recently, 'The Avengers' came out and showed us all that big superhero movies could be unabashed fun - true to their source material without overly pandering to hardcore fans, yet broadly celebratory of their pulpy source material all the same. By contrast Nolan's films still feel embarrassed to have Batman in them.

Now, before people shout "bias", I didn't go in resolved to dislike 'TDKR' because of these factors, but I probably wasn't as pumped for it as I would have been a couple of short years ago. But what really stopped me from getting on with 'TDKR' was the film itself: overlong, self-important, and even sloppily made - with Hans Zimmer's score overpowering much of the dialogue and with a basic lack of storytelling coherency throughout. There are too many new characters. The film chops between too many disparate plot threads and far too frequently. There is zero sense of either time (months pass and we know this only because of dialogue) or space (people go from desserts to cities without the sense of physical distance).

The film is full of strange "joke" moments and throwaway lines that feel like they come from a different movie and are presented in such a cold and robotic way that they feel forced. And though Anne Hathaway nails it as Catwoman, and Michael Caine does some wonderful stuff with some otherwise over-written and melodramatic dialogue, it's a mystery how such a poor performance was drawn from the usually excellent Marion Cotillard. Don't even get me started on Tom Hardy, over-acting with his eyes and delivering his lines in a variable and barely understandable accent. I've been told he's easier to understand if you see the film in IMAX, with 7.1 surround sound - but that's not how most people will see it and, to me, that sounds like a poor excuse for bad mixing/sound design/acting.

The action scenes are technically impressive but lack any feeling of awe. The fistfights lack anything like imaginative choreography, tending to resemble to big men exchanging punches. Joseph Gordon Levitt is really compelling as a rookie detective, but gets relatively little to do (you could say the same for Catwoman, forgotten for most of the film's second half). Batman himself spends far too much time walking in daylight and his secret identity is shared far too liberally. Add to all this the fact that the film's politics are dispiritingly conservative, broadly supportive of the super-rich and cynical about those who would seek to redress the balance (the occupy movement is the obvious target, but not the only one in a film that's broadly suspicious of any and all grass roots social change). There are two tacked on, completely false feeling, romantic sub-plots - one of which is (arguably) relevant to the story but the other one is completely superfluous.

It's just no fun at all. In fact it's incredibly boring and goes on forever. I have to admit, I enjoyed it slightly more on a second viewing, with radically reduced expectations, getting swept up in the internal mythology of a trilogy that contains the ultimate re-boot ('Batman Begins') and one of the best (if not THE BEST) superhero movies ever made ('The Dark Knight'). But it still isn't a good movie. I feel like such a grouchy old man right now, but there it is.

If you thought I sounded like a fun-spoiling misanthrope above, then you're not going to enjoy this. Kicking a comedy - a film which only intends to spread laughter - often feels like a thankless task. And if 'Ted' has given audiences some laughs and distracted them from the outside world for an hour and a half, then all power to it. But for me - not a fan of 'Family Guy' by any yardstick - it was just a one-joke crass-fest and an extremely pointless one at that. That one joke being: "it's funny because a children's toy is swearing and fucking hookers!" A child gets punched in the face. People poo on stuff. Every race, creed and mental illness is casually mined for shock humour - with zero satirical intent or apparent meaning. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, and if I sound like a massive snob by saying this, then clearly you'll have more fun with it than I did.

I laughed twice - though I can't remember at what - and, for what it's worth, I like the initial premise: a classic 80s kids movie wish fulfilment fantasy taken to its horrendous conclusion. Yet otherwise it left me cold. The cast is solid, MacFarlane's direction is assured and the CGI bear works well with his surroundings - but that's about the best I can say for it.

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